Soy-chosis: The Strange but True Origin of How a Bean Became Demonized by a Nation (and Beyond)
Tofu turns boys into girls and more disinformation from a radically nostalgic, dangerously influential organization
When I was in seventh grade, I got a chocolate milkshake in my middle school cafeteria at lunch. My friend, who I presumed knew all the ins-and-outs of everything related to our school because her father was vice principal, told me, “You know, that’s made with soybeans.” She raised an eyebrow, waiting for the news to sink in and was instantly rewarded with my dramatic display. I can only imagine what I looked like: A classic double-take, honed from years of watching Warner Bros. cartoons, as I beheld the milkshake I’d happily guzzled not moments with fresh, newly disgusted eyes. Wordlessly, I slid my cup across the table over to her and she, smiling victoriously, wasted no time in sipping where I’d left off. (It was actually masterful comic timing.) She’d just collected a delicious free milkshake with a minimum of effort. As we said back in the ‘80s: Score!
As I write this, I am trying to go back to explore what fueled my response when I found out that the milkshake I thought I was consuming was soy instead of dairy and I am trying to give that 13-year-old a seat at the table to gain an understanding of her reaction. Yes, much of my response was an understandably immature desire to create a funny moment and further endear myself to my friend. (Middle school is a battlefield.) The other aspect, though, was disgust that I was drinking beans. It was me being silly and trying to get a laugh but it was also a knee-jerk, irrational response, kind of like the unfounded anti-soy rhetoric that abounds on the internet today.
For many years, soy was fairly innocuous though nearly universally mocked in the U.S. cultural sphere. In the 1970s and 1980s, if it was thought of at all, it was the squishy weirdness someone’s hippie girlfriend put in the stir-fry or the beige substance someone’s uncle from the commune would chug and try to force on decent people who were just minding their own business. It didn’t leave that realm of the chuckling punchline for a long time. When I first went vegetarian as a 15-year-old in the 1980s, I didn’t…